Caregiving as a Spiritual Practice

yoga-sunsetAt some point in our lives, all of us will wind up being caregivers. This can take many forms: as a parent taking care of a sick child, an adult child caring for aging parents, a friend helping a friend recover from surgery. Caretaking can also include nursing an injured animal back to health, sitting with grieving people…the list goes on and on.

What an excellent opportunity for spiritual growth!

Caregiving can be exhausting and rewarding, frustrating and exalting. People can find ourselves having peak emotional experiences while managing entirely quotidian details. It goes without saying that human beings and other animals in need of care find themselves in trying circumstances both emotionally and physically. Those caring for them bring their own baggage to the mix; one never knows when a particular circumstance might trigger a powerful emotional response in the caregiver. In such circumstances, breathing in full awareness can prevent nerves from fraying and tempers from snapping. The self-awareness we gain from yoga and meditation can be a crucial key to making the caregiving experience a positive one on both sides of the dyad.

The circumstances that bring these relationships into existence–trauma, illness, surgery, and psychological strain–come loaded with strong emotion. Both the person in recovery and the caregiver may experience fear, love, anxiety, hope– in short, the full spectrum of human emotion. Because of the heightened affect that accompanies these experiences, it’s important to remain rooted, balanced, and serene. Sending some quality time in Tree pose can really help at a time like this, as can periods of Standing Mountain. You might breathe deeply and silently say on your out-breath, “Like a tree, I am firmly rooted to the earth;” or, “Like a mountain, I am solid and strong.”Taking the time to just lie in Savasana or sit in Lotus while breathing mindfully can be very useful as well.

Taking care of another human being or animal means inevitably drains your own resources to some extent, even though the experience can also be deeply fulfilling. Taking care of oneself is never so important as when tasked with the care and well-being of another. Drink calming teas, eat well, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and don’t neglect your practice! The person/animal you’re caring for will greatly benefit from the care you give yourself.

Best regards,

William

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